Women In India Are Being Forced Into Taking Dangerous Actions To Prevent Periods So They Don’t Miss Work

Two extremely worrying pieces of news have come out of India recently concerning the reproductive health of women, in particular, the lack of protection for working-class women when it comes to menstruation.

Geeta Pandey writing for BBC News reports that many women working in the "sugar belt" in the state of Maharashtra are being encouraged to have their womb removed to avoid menstruating, and potentially losing a few days of work.

In one of the districts of the western Indian state, there have been 4,605 hysterectomies, most performed on women under the age of 40, and in some cases on women who are still in their 20s. For some, these unnecessary surgical interventions have led to severe complications, from muscular and joint pain to swollen extremities, and constant dizziness.

The second report from Reuters reveals that women in the multi-billion dollar garment industry in Tamil Nadu, located in the south Indian sub-continent, are being given unlabeled drugs at work instead of a day off when they complain about period pains.

The region is believed to employ more than 300,000 female workers, although the number might be higher, as thousands of workers there are likely unknown to the government. Many young girls work there to gain dowry money, an illegal practice known as sumangali, or "soft trafficking". 

One hundred women were interviewed by the Thompson Reuter foundation, most of whom were between the age of 15 and 25. The foundation reports that among the side effects of these unknown pills are nausea and vomiting, as well as longer-lasting effects such as erratic menstrual cycles, depression, and difficulty in conceiving.

According to the Foundation, industry associations, government officials, and international firms that buy those clothes are looking into the practice.

The stigma around periods is common in India, despite some recent outspoken individuals campaigning to challenge myths around menstruation. But it is by no means limited to India. Ignorance continues to accompany menstruation discussions in the West as well, despite being an Oscar-winning topic, and things like period poverty are commonplace among the wealthiest nations on the planet.

A recent study in the British Medical Journal based on nearly 33,000 women in the Netherlands - a country considered progressive, and regularly featuring in the top 5 happiest countries in the world - revealed that on average women lose around 8.5 days of productivity each year due to menstruation-related symptoms, though only 14 percent said they took time off work or school, and when they did only 21 percent gave their employer periods as being their reason for calling in sick.

Half the global population will likely experience periods at some point in their life, it's time we break the taboo and start addressing it.